Capital Thinking • Issue #713 • View online
This post was originally my comment to a person on Facebook, which somebody then deleted.
This person repeatedly throws out the 1.2 M deaths worldwide number and I finally lost it and posted a response to him after he scolded people for “spreading disinformation and not listening to science”.
He actually told people disputing the Second Wave Hysteria to “shut up and listen to the government and science”.
As one of my all-time favourite economists, Thomas Sowell, would say…. “Oh dear, where to begin?”
1 million or 1.2 million deaths worldwide sounds like a big number and on its own you can use it to club “Covidiots” into silence, that is, until you actually look at it.
For starters, bandying out a number, any number in isolation is meaningless. For any number to have any relevance, to anything, it has to be part of a data set or otherwise part of some meaningful comparison.
If we take the 1.2 million COVID deaths worldwide, at it’s face (more on that below), the obvious question then becomes “is that good or bad?”
The most useful signal we can get from a global COVID death toll is how it compares to what is called the “Absolute Fatality Rates” globally, which is simply the rate of all fatalities from all causes.
From the charts, we can clearly see, there was a lot of excess mortality in March and April, and then, like every other meaningful metric around Coronavirus, it drops off drastically and starts to level out, with a slight seasonal rise as we head into the winter.
Interestingly, in “no lockdown” Sweden, it turns out their absolute death toll is much lower than one would think:
It could possibly come in lower by the end of the year, but if not, will come in not that much higher. Not as high as, say, the US or England.
If reducing fatalities is the goal, there is a much easier way to do that
Sadly, a lot of people die every day, and I’m sure you’ve seen memes on social media on how many more people die from other causes like Tuberculosis (1.4M in 2019) than COVID-19.
In the US, where the COVID death toll currently sits at 225K, it is estimated that medical malpractice kills 250K Americans a year.
But an even bigger number, according to the WHO, is that alcohol abuse kills 3 million people annually, and that number will surely go even higher this year given the massive spike in mental illness, domestic violence, child abuse, depression and suicide caused by the lockdowns.
If this is about saving lives, we could literally bring those alcohol related deaths to zero, turning it off like the flick of a switch by instituting a global ban on alcohol. We could do it tomorrow. Should we? The lives we save may include your own.
In fact if we banned alcohol then we could let Coronavirus run and still be ahead nearly 2M preventable deaths annually, provided COVID-19 kept going with the same intensity it was going in March and April, which it clearly isn’t (see below).
Of course, nobody would seriously entertain that, and they could probably articulate some decent logic around why we shouldn’t.
But they may dismiss it without considering how closely the lockdown approach toward reducing COVID fatalities is analogous to a worldwide ban on alcohol to eliminate alcohol related deaths would be. Especially since we also know that a large portion of coronavirus fatalities die with COVID-19 and numerous other comorbidities* than of it (however, see my footnote on that at the end of this post).
In that sense, alcohol related carnage is very similar. Few alcoholics drink themselves to death outright. Far more kill themselves (and others) in car accidents, commit suicide, or wreck their livers, hearts, kidneys, brains or generally run themselves down so low nearly anything else will finish them off.
Second Wave Hysteria
Case counts are clearly rising again globally, that much is true and we have oodles of data to track it. With it, there come fears of the dreaded “Second Wave” of fatalities.
In the often cited Spanish Flu of 1918, the bulk of the fatalities came in the second wave. However, the Spanish Flu was a very different pandemic than the one we have today. That one attacked people right in the early years of the prime-of-life age curve:
Scientists believe the nature of that strain caused “cytokine storms”, the phenomenon where the immune system overreacts and attacks itself. In a perverse twist of fate, this made the population with the strongest immune systems more vulnerable to the flu.
Contrast with COVID-19 where nobody disputes that the most vulnerable members of the population are the elderly and those with underlying medical conditions that render them immuno-compromised. In this sense, comparing 1918 to COVID-19 is not accurate or useful.
*Featured post photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash